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When most people talk about prosciutto, they’re talking about the salty, thinly sliced ham that harkens from Italy. But prosciutto is just the Italian word for ham. Add crudo to it and now you’re talking.
That said, in this article, we’ll just call it prosciutto. And since it’s a unique and expensive meat, we’ll tell you how to get the best of out of your investment.
Originating in Italy, prosciutto is made from the hind legs of pigs. The dry curing process has been around before the Roman empire and starts with the meat being salted and left to rest for a few weeks. The salt draws out the moisture and prevents bacteria from entering the flesh. As a result, the ham is edible without needing to be cooked.
After salting, the pig legs are washed, seasoned by hand (usually according to a family recipe), and hung to dry at a controlled temperature for 14 to 36 months.
What Does Prosciutto Taste Like?
Prosciutto has a salty yet slightly sweet taste. Since the flavour is rather intense, it’s generally served in thin slices.
Where Can I Buy Prosciutto?
Prosciutto can be found as vacuum-packed slices or freshly cut slices from the deli at most local grocery stores. Vacuum packed whole or partial legs (usually deboned) and bone-in unpackaged legs are likely found in Italian specialty stores or online.
American made prosciutto is generally less expensive than prosciutto from Italy. The average cost of American prosciutto is about $13 a pound while some Italian prosciuttos can cost up to $30 a pound.
What Should I Look for When Buying Prosciutto?
Prosciutto should have a light pink or soft crimson hue with ivory veins going through it. Avoid sliced versions with dry or curled edges.
For whole vacuum-packed legs, check to make sure the vacuum seal is still intact. The meat should have the pink/reddish color with no signs of dryness. There should be no liquid in the package.
Whole, bone-in legs should be firm with a thick layer of fat surrounding the leg. It will have a crust of salt on the cut portion. There should be no discoloration on the salt or fat. Depending on the type you buy, there may be markings on the leg to indicate its origin, which is normal.
How Long Do Packaged Prosciutto Slices Last?
Deli sliced prosciutto should be eaten 2-3 days after purchasing. Keep the slices tightly wrapped in the refrigerator. For pre-packaged prosciutto, use before the “use by” on the package. Once opened, wrap tightly and use in 2-3 days.
On the other hand, my father used to buy expired pre-packaged prosciutto and eat the prosciutto months later without any ill effect. That said, read the section below on how to tell if prosciutto is still edible before following in my father’s footsteps.
How Long Does a Dry-Cured Bone in Prosciutto Leg Last?
If you’re lucky enough to get a bone in leg, store it in a cool, dry place and slice as needed. My brother-in-law used to hang the legs in a storage room in his basement! Though it is a cured meat and can last a long time, use it up within a year. For any unused slices, store as recommended for pre-packed slices.
Vacuum packed legs are usually deboned. Unopened, they can last up to a year in the refrigerator. We suggest a middle shelf to evenly chill the entire leg. Once opened, wrap, ideally with a flexible wax paper to keep air out. Properly stored, the opened leg has a six-month shelf life.
What Can I Do with Prosciutto?
Prosciutto is used in sandwiches, on pizzas and is a common element in charcuterie boards. Use it in pasta sauces, egg dishes or salads. Prosciutto’s salty flavour combines well with sweet fresh or dried fruits and you’ll often find it wrapped around a slice of cantaloupe or a dried fig. And, of course, it’s an essential ingredient in Saltimbocca, the Italian dish where pork or chicken is stuffed then wrapped with prosciutto slices and baked in broth.
How to Freeze Prosciutto
You can freeze prosciutto, but the taste and quality will degrade to some extent. It will also become slightly tougher and harder to cut.
Unopened vacuum packaged prosciutto can be frozen as is. Deli slices should be wrapped in foil and then again in plastic wrap or placed in a plastic freezer bag.
Cut large pieces of leftover prosciutto into chunks suitable for the way you intend to use it since too small pieces will deteriorate faster. For example, if you want to use it in a sauce, cut a chunk the size you expect you’ll need. Wrap each chunk tightly in foil and then place in a plastic bag or air tight container.
How Can I Use Frozen Prosciutto?
After defrosting in the refrigerator, pre-frozen prosciutto should be eaten within a few days. Sliced prosciutto can be used in sandwiches or eaten as is. For chunks, you can coarsely chop and use as you would in any recipe, though you may need to add a little more to get the flavour you’re used to. Or, try frying either for a crispy topping on salads or other dishes.
Prosciutto should have a smell similar to fresh bacon. If it smells “off” or develops green, blue, or grey discoloured areas or blotches, it’s time to toss it.
What’s the Difference Between Prosciutto and Bacon?
The big difference is that you have to cook bacon before eating it. While you can cook prosciutto, it’s not necessary and can be eaten as is. Additionally, bacon is made from pork belly and after it’s cured, it’s smoked. Prosciutto will not have the smoky flavour of bacon nor as much fat.
While they are often used interchangeably, prosciutto is much more expensive so save it for special occasions or recipes.
Is Prosciutto Healthy?
Prosciutto has quite a lot of fat and salt so it’s not something you want to eat regularly, especially if you’re watching your salt intake. But it’s loaded with B vitamins, selenium, zinc and potassium.
Compared to bacon, it has a lighter calorie count. Two slices of prosciutto have 70 calories compared to 100 in two standard slices of bacon. Prosciutto also has less fat but almost twice the amount of sodium.
However, unlike most cured meats, the dry cured salting method used to make prosciutto uses no nitrites, an excess of which can increase the risk of heart disease or diabetes. Nitrates can also cause migraines or other adverse reactions. If you’re not able to eat bacon because of adverse reactions, prosciutto will give you the bacon taste you’ve been missing without the side effects.